North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

August 28, 2013

"God gave it to me for a reason": Gardendale teen recovers from brain tumor

By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — A teenager is almost six weeks into recovery from brain surgery, and she said the experience has altered the way she looks at life.

This summer, Anna Mont­gomery, 19, developed worsening symptoms that were beginning to affect her daily life. She was blacking out, had debilitating headaches near her nose and eyes, tingling in her hands, weakness and extreme fatigue.

A visit to her doctor revealed that a cyst on the pineal gland region of her brain had doubled in size. She and her family had known for two years that it was there, but in most cases pineal cysts cause no symptoms and can be ignored. She said only 4 percent of people with the cysts have symptoms.

Her local doctor could not treat the tumor, nor could several other doctors she visited in the area. Her parents, Frank and Jill Montgomery, searched the Internet and found only three doctors in the country who perform surgeries on pineal cysts.

“We basically chose the one that could do the surgery the quickest,” Anna Montgomery said.

Dr. Hrayr Shahinian of the Skull Base Tumor Institute in Los Angeles could see her first; he placed her surgery on his schedule for July 18.

“I never knew how hard the surgery would be,” Montgomery said.

Immediately following surgery, she could not talk or walk, and the pain in her head was still debilitating. It was a side effect from surgery and was to be expected, but it was discouraging. She was also experiencing severe nausea, vomiting and brain swelling.

“It was debilitating, but in a good way,” Montgomery said. “It meant you’re getting better.”

In addition, Montgomery could not sleep. The surgeon had to remove part of the pineal gland in order to get rid of the tumor. The pineal gland regulates melatonin, which helps the body go to sleep at the proper times. She will have to take melatonin, which is available over-the-counter, for the rest of her life in order to help her sleep.

Montgomery started a blog on July 6 detailing her experiences, including the joys and the difficult moments. She still updates it several times a week. Her purpose is simple: To help others.

“My mission from day one was to keep people updated, but my main goal was to help someone else,” she said. “(Having the tumor) has given me a platform to speak about it. God gave it to me for a reason.”

Montgomery now feels passionate about telling people to “be more aggressive with your health.” She herself ignored the headaches and other symptoms for a long time before going to the doctor.

In addition to her physical pain, it has been hard for Montgomery to watch others’ lives moving forward while she has been recovering from surgery. Through social media, she has watched her sorority sisters at the University of Alabama during rush week and other events.

“I hate to be missing (rush week) but I am counting down the days til I am back in Tuscaloosa with all of my sorority sisters,” she wrote on her blog on Aug. 17.

Montgomery is keeping her chin up, however. This semester, she is taking online classes in order to not fall behind at school. She is starting her sophomore year, where she is majoring in sports broadcasting.

She also spends much of her time encouraging others. Her blog always has a positive tone, even when she is having a hard day. Thousands of readers are following her posts, including people from at least 30 countries.

Montgomery welcomes questions about her experience, especially from people with pineal cyst tumors and their families. Email her at aemontgomery1@crimson.ua.edu or read her blog at annaelizmon.wordpress.com.